The Changing Pattern of Archaeological Excavation in England; as Reflected by the Excavation Index
Sargent, Andrew, Antiquity
The Excavation Index, a national index of excavations compiled by the Royal Commission, makes it possible to generate some statistics on the changing pattern of English archaeology, as reflected in the number and periods of sites dug.
In a recent note in ANTIQUITY, Michael Morris (1992) examined the development of Bronze Age studies in England from 1840 to 1960. He states, 'It is a key assumption of this study that the broad changes apparent in Bronze Age studies . . . are a microcosm of the larger discipline', but goes on to lament that 'little comparable statistical data has been compiled for the rest of prehistoric studies or indeed for archaeology as a whole' (Morris 1992: 419). One source drawn on by Morris, the Excavation Index maintained by the Royal Commission on the Historical Monuments of England (RCHME), can provide a range of statistics on the history of archaeological excavation in England. This note is intended to set Morris' findings for Bronze Age studies into the context of 'archaeology as a whole', using data from the Excavation Index.
The Excavation Index
Since 1978 the National Archaeological Record (NAR) of RCHME has been compiling an index of archaeological excavations carried out in England. The project has four main aims: to compile a list of all excavations in England; to locate the original records from those excavations; to locate the finds from those excavations; to indicate those excavations for which a report has been published. The information noted for each separate excavation, recorded in retrievable fields on the computerized database, includes: locational details, period and type of remains recovered, name of the director of the excavation, dates of excavation, sponsoring and funding bodies, the location of finds, the location and content of the archive, any publications.
At the time of writing the Index contains over 26,000 records nationally, and this figure increases annually through maintenance and enhancement. Its scope has recently been expanded to include surveys funded by HBMC and its predecessors, watching briefs since 1960 and evaluations.
As the compilation of the Index has progressed, the trends in and distribution of excavations within individual counties have been examined: Norfolk (Beagrie & Gurney 1988), Greater London (Sargent 1990), Surrey (Beagrie & Scott 1990), Suffolk (Carr 1991) and northeast England (RCHME 1991). The following discussion is based on national statistics. Future maintenance and enhancement of the Index will mean that these figures should be regarded as provisional.
Bronze Age studies and national trends in excavation
TABLE 1 records the number of all excavations and the numbers for selected periods for each decade from the 1790s to the 1970s. This time-scale was chosen to provide a background to the developments identified by Morris. FIGURE 1 confirms that the pattern identified by Morris for Bronze Age studies in outline reflects the overall pattern: a peak in the 1840s-1860s is followed by a decline between 1870s-1910s, with a further sharp rise from 1920s, interrupted by the Second World War, that continues again from the 1950s.
decade Bronze Roman medieval total Age 1790s 35 23 4 65 1800s 522 46 3 599 1810s 63 37 10 152 1820s 95 66 10 193 1830s 45 48 16 116 1840s 397 117 35 602 1850s 362 137 34 652 1860s 419 136 40 696 1870s 255 92 54 459 1880s 222 133 74 503 1890s 171 171 77 489 1900s 129 200 119 532 1910s 104 161 92 469 1920s 177 475 220 1070 1930s 340 738 302 1672 1940s 170 443 206 939 1950s 368 1276 752 2760 1960s 430 1678 1331 3920 1970s 475 2021 2119 5271 TABLE 1. …